The pearly white rice grains were heaped in a circle round the smooth black pit. The black stone would rush past and in its wake the grains slipped down to be crushed. Grains long since crushed had been masticated into a while paste by the ceaseless pounding and now the paste bubbled and spilled over the pit —like a tide driven by a restless unseen energy — as the stone made its rounds and slipped back taking with it fresh grains; and the crushing went on. Now and then the whole grinding stone would shake and the dull thud shot across the rumbling of the stone making its turbulent rounds. She sighed and the grinding stopped abruptly. The silence — as though waiting in ambush — leapt into the house. She had been grinding for over an hour now and her body bore moist testimony to the fact. Tiny rivulets coursed down her face and coalesced at the chin. Winding the edge of the sari round the clean right hand — the other had been engaged in guiding the rice into the bubbling pit — she wiped her face.. Placing hand on the edge of the stone, she rose heavily and held each leg stiffly forward one after the other: the one hour session had cramped them. Holding the paste-covered hand stiffly, she awkwardly got herself a drink of water from the mud-pot. Again she squatted in front of the grinding stone. The long stone — polished by countless such grindings —was gripped firmly, the arm jerked and again the stone was moving. The paste was smooth now, in the stone’s wake a dark space gaped into which the batter was swiftly sucked with a squelching noise. The triumphant revolving stone made no noise now; its middle was ringed with dripping batter constantly renewed. The elbow continually jerked away, the arm making an arch that swiftly became almost straight, and then again arched, coming back to the original position, and then started again. At last the desired consistency was achieved. Gripping the pestle with both hands she heaved it out. There was a sucking noise and all the batter poured into hole. Using her hand she removed it into a vessel and washed the stone.
Bored silence hung over the house. She walked into the front room, flicked on the radio and flopped down on the bed picking up the newspaper. Listlessly the paper dropped out of her hand. All news left her untouched; nothing interested her. She had once been a girl vitally interested in political developments; who talked of youth participation, the inherent drawbacks in communism, permissiveness in the West. And of course, of Women’s Liberation. That was good. Sumati’s lips curled in a smile that had no mirth as she lay. Everyone — all the college girls — had been interested. All their heated declarations came back to her. A woman should be considered equal to a man. . . a wife should be per-mitted to work and demand respect. She had participated in the college debate and won the prize as best speaker. A woman should not wear out her life slaving in the kitchen. .. no longer should the kitchen walls imprison her. Sumati arched her back to ease the ache. The one-and-a-half hour grinding had taken its toll. Her glance slipped from one object to another. The radio filled the room with insipid film songs. The train of her thoughts was arrested. The volume of music was set too high. The music was too stale. Restlessly she endured it for a few minutes; then getting irritated, she jumped up and switched it off. Drawing back the curtains, she stood at the window staring out. The afternoon sun had choked the traffic to a trickle of a few cars and an occasional bus. There were no pedestrians to brave the sun. The apartment was in the heart of the city. Gently, the noise of the traffic crept in; muted, but always present: a backdrop to the silence in house. She felt its comfort in the empty house. Rows of apartments and business houses lined the road tightly. The towering buildings were trapped in immobility while the noise eddied and echoed around them. She moved back into the room and the curtains swung back. Almost unconsciously she went over to the bed and lay down. Across the blankness of her mind the ticking of the clock swung in. The shining bob of the pendulum swept to and fro; there was nothing hurried about its swing — it was measured, calm. In its glassed prison, the bob danced its never varying dance. The hands showed three o’clock. The clock struck the hour; the metallic tinkles began to reverberate about the empty house — rushing into every room, seeking an escape, As the pulsating sound gently died away, the tick-tock reasserted itself,